Physical Activity is Declining Worldwide

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A study led by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers has found evidence of a global decline in activity levels and predicts a continuing rise in inactivity around the world, say authors Barry Popkin and Shu Wen Ng, faculty members at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The authors used data from the 1960s onward to determine how people around the world spend their time, as well as how they move in the course of daily living. The global decline in physical activity in the past few decades is particularly abrupt when viewed in the context of activity levels throughout human history.

Though it has been documented for some time that children and adults in the U.S. are spending more time watching television and participating in other sedentary activities, the same shifts are occurring in China, India, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

The authors note that the use of machinery and technology in the home has reduced the time and motion spent on housework. Greater use of cars and buses, more sedentary jobs and less walking have lowered activity levels worldwide.

The study forecasts continuing declines in physical activity at work and at home in the U.S. and abroad, which will have significant implications for health outcomes, health care costs and the overall well-being of societies. The researchers point out that:

  • Physically active children learn better.
  • Active adults live longer and are more functional.
  • Active women are less prone to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

The authors call for global initiatives and advocacy efforts in all parts of the world to study and effectively intervene.

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